Sphere, a useful blog search engine
(Update: Oops, Sphere's Tony Conrad had told us it would be up "very early" this morning, but he has delayed it because of some bugs. We'll let you know when it's up.)
We were limited in how much we could tinker with Sphere, developed by a San Francisco team led by Tony Conrad. But there are two nifty features worth highlighting. The first is the "chronology" feature. Tony showed us an example using "Mohammed Cartoons." Type that term into the search bar, and you get 274 blog post results. Sphere then gives you a frequency graph of the blog posts over a certain timeline. The Mohammed cartoons spiked in February (see below for an example).
Sphere defaults its frequency chart to 4 months, and underneath shows you its relevant results for that period. But you can choose to expand or decline the timeline to any dates you want, by dragging the bookends of the timeline. If you want to limit your search to the height Mohammed cartoon controversy, for example, you can pick Feb 9 through Feb 17, and Sphere pulls up only blogs posts written during that period.
Sphere orders the blog posts by relevance. First, it looks at link structures. For example, Om Malik is an authoritative blogger on telecom matters, enjoying numerous links from other well-known bloggers on the topic. If Om points to a blogger also writing about telecom, Sphere awards that blogger a boost in his relevance ranking, and his posts are considered are ranked higher. But if Om Malik goes off on a tangent, and posts something about the Yankees, he is no longer an expert. Sphere treats any links by Om to bloggers writing on the Yankees as less important. Sphere does this by doing a semantic analysis of the blog posts.
Sphere also considers post depth, counting as more relevant those posts that are longer than just one or two lines, which is a length used by many spam blogs. It judges more recent posts more relevant. It considers a number of other factors, including a blogger's post frequency, and whether a blogger uses a word several times, such as tickets-tickets-tickets -- again, a yellow flag for spam.
Sphere also lets you click on a "related media" button, which provides you with news articles, podcasts, books and photos related to the term you are searching for.
But the second impressive feature is its "Sphere it!" feature. You add a "Sphere it!" button to your favorites. Then, if you are searching the Web and find an interesting article, you can click on Sphere it!, and it takes you to a page of the blog posts it finds that are relevant to the article.
Pretty neat as far as it goes, which is far. We asked Tony, though, whether the "Sphere it!" feature can be tweaked so that it doesn't take us to separate page. We'd rather have the page of blog posts pop up -- allowing us to remain on our original page. We hope he incorporates the idea.
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